The Real Poop
Wait—you're thinking of a career. A career in—don't tell us—magic? Ta-da! Magic!
Magic is making a comeback. Ask anyone standing in line at the Harry Potter theme park, anyone visiting any number of Las Vegas magic rooms, or who went to see the sixth four-hour Lord of the Rings film at its midnight opening (guilty).
Throughout history, magicians have wowed audiences with their ability to divert attention, conjure spirits (or just pretend to), and escape life-threatening situations. Mankind has always had a fascination with watching their fellow human beings perform the seemingly impossible; it's nothing short of life-affirming to see a magician defy death (or at least to make it appear that way).
It's a surprisingly financially magical career as well, netting you a respectable $49,000 per year (source). Who knew pulling doves out of your coat pocket would actually improve your bank account?
There are numerous types of magic shows that you can perform. Four of the biggest are as follows:
- Stage illusionists. These are your David Copperfields and Siegfried & Roys (and comedian-magicians like Penn & Teller). They perform on a big stage with a ton of flashing lights and pretty colors to distract you from their trickery. You sit back a ways in the audience, too far away to discern their sleight of hand but wowed by the grandeur and magnitude of their illusions. It's also a much safer place to include Bengal tigers in your act than at a kid's birthday party (trust us).
- Table illusionists. These magicians specialize in close-up magic. They're less about the big and brash and more about the actual techniques of magic. They may not be making fighter jets disappear, but they can stand two feet from your face and do things with a deck of cards that will blow your mind just as much.
- Escape artists. These magicians channel their inner Houdini. It's a rare concentration nowadays, but many magicians dabble at least a little in escapology (no, we didn't make that up). Escape feats often involve some combination of a straitjacket, heavy chains, a large safe, and a tank of water. If you use all four you're automatically enshrined in the Escapologist Hall of Fame (okay, we made that one up).
- Mentalists. These folks can perform on large stages or in more intimate settings. They purport to be able to read your mind, speak to dead relatives, or to otherwise intuit something that seems impossible to intuit. The reason it seems impossible? Because it is. There's a reason these things are called illusions, people.
How do you decide what works best for you? Pick a performance that highlights your best skills. Master the basics of sleight of hand and practice with props—cards and rings and hoops, oh my!—to see what you enjoy doing the most.
Then try some of the bigger, more advanced stuff like levitation. With the right supervision and training, you'll eventually get into the dangerous tricks, but we're not going to ever suggest you do them when you're just starting out.
Magicians are more than just specialized tricksters. To make a name for yourself you'll need to develop a captivating stage presence. It's important to be able to command the audience's attention—so you can then misdirect it. No one will remember a bumbling magician's performance, and if they do, it won't be a good thing.
Like a writer or a film director, a magician must be able to build suspense. Harry Houdini, arguably the most famous magician of all time, understood suspense. He pioneered the belief that a magician must create a bond with his or her audience.
It wasn't enough for Houdini to mystify his audience, either; he wanted them to actually care about his welfare. To create this bond, he dressed just like the wealthy members of his audience—as your grandfather might have said, to the nines.
By wearing the same suits and ties that his audience wore, Houdini established a sense of trust and respect with them. People identified with his upscale attire and parlor-like stage design. The intimate atmosphere gave his audience the impression that his tricks were real occurrences and not the workmanship of deceptive theatrics.
It's kind of like going to a haunted house where all the victims are wearing your school's colors; you just want them to survive just a little bit more than you otherwise would've.
Inventiveness plays a major role in a magician's life. It's important to invent a persona you can market. After years of getting the basics down, magicians generally develop their own unique routine—some magicians go big and bold with lots of exaggerated arm gestures and arches of the eyebrow, some rely on humor to connect with the audience.
Think pizzazz, think moxie, think pyrotechnics and confetti and music. Figure out what brings in the oohs and ahhs, then stuff the show full of those things.
Unless your sense of humor is farts and other bodily noises. If you go with those, the only thing that will disappear is your audience.
Once you have some experience performing, getting a manager or agent will help you book gigs. You could be hired by a major theatrical venue to perform in front of thousands of paying audience members, or book a one-week gig performing in the historic member's only Magic Castle in Hollywood, or even be commissioned to perform for an hour at a thirteen-year-old's bar mitzvah. Okay, that last one's not the best, but a gig is a gig.
So does all of that add up to a solid way to make a living? Absolutely, as long as you have the talent and passion for it. Making a career out of this interesting mixture of art, entertainment, and lies takes a lot of practice, charm, timing, and determination.
And maybe, just maybe...a little magic.
What? We couldn't not end it like that.